Would You Pay $100 More for an iPhone?
The market loved Apple (NAS: AAPL) today, and rightfully so. After falling in 10 of the past 11 days of trading, the world's most valuable company is soaring after a blowout quarterly report.
The financials are fantastic, but not everything is perfect:
- Mac revenue merely kept pace with inflation by climbing just 2% higher over the past year. MacBook revenue actually declined.
- We've seen iPod sales posting year-over-year declines for several quarters now, though a 25% plunge this time around is still problematic.
- Apple sold 11.8 million iPads. That's a respectable showing, but analysts were expecting 13 million iPads.
In other words, Apple really has all of its iEggs in the iPhone basket. The iPhone is now 58% of Apple's revenue, and iPhones represent nearly 60% of the gadgets sold.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it's going to draw more attention to the iPhone's prospects in the future.
Here is where things get hairy. Verizon (NYS: VZ) and AT&T (NYS: T) , the country's two largest wireless carriers, are getting antsy. They both experienced double-digit percentage declines in iPhone sales sequentially this past quarter. A dip was expected. The iPhone 4S was introduced late last year, and smartphones are somewhat popular as holiday gifts.
However, this is giving the carriers the opportunity to speak up about how much more they have to subsidize the iPhone over any other handset. They're tired of shelling out between $300 and $400 to Apple for every iPhone sold. Carriers have been effectively pushing Android devices as a more cost-effective alternative for their bottom lines. Now they're cheering on Microsoft's (NAS: MSFT) fledgling Windows Phone as a mobile operating system.
"It is important that there is a third ecosystem that is brought into the mix here, and we are fully supportive of that with Microsoft," Verizon Wireless CFO Fran Shammo said during last week's call.
Apple is fine. It's obviously still selling plenty of iPhones, especially abroad, where the subsidization deals vary by country. However, with Verizon and AT&T grumbling -- and Sprint Nextel (NYS: S) still a few years away from profitability -- should Apple be thinking about its carrier partners?
What if Apple bumped this year's iPhone 5 devices up by $100, letting carriers take most of that figure in the form of smaller subsidies? Would the carriers still be raining Lumia phones on their customers? Would the freshly incentivized carriers push to win market share for Apple -- or would customers balk at paying $299 for an entry-level iPhone 5?
This may not be the answer, but it's a conversation that needs to be had. Apple is feasting on the iPhone, and wireless carriers are complaining about getting only scraps.
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